Back in November 1981, whilst freelancing as a publicity stills photographer for Thames Television in the UK, I was assigned to the Agatha Christie drama-murder series which was on location for a week at the famous Bluebell Railway in East Sussex.
During one lunch break I was able to do a bit of my own photography because the weather, being particularly overcast with a fine drizzle blowing in, was imposible for filming continuity. However, the light was flat, soft and from my point of view ideal for product photography. And what a product! A 100-tonne oily, steel machine, quietly belching smoke and steam, namely a Southern Railway Maunsell U-Class 2-6-0. I set-up my 5x4 inch Wista field camera and looked at the potential of the locomotive's very interesting valve gear.
I had two large-format lenses in my camera-bag... a wide-angle Nikkor 90mm f/4.5 (equivalent to a 25mm lens on 35mm format) and a slightly long standard Nikkor 210mm f/5.6 (60mm on 35mm) which I used here. An initial exposure reading for the shadow detail was taken from the centre of the driving wheel - highlight readings being taken from the shiny shaft of the piston (lower right in picture). Between clouds of steam - and there was a lot about, it being a cold, damp winter's day - two sheets of FP4 were exposed - one for "Normal" development with the second sheet kept in reserve for "Normal + 1" development if required (and it was... ideally I should have shot more!)
Half surprisingly, or maybe as expected, one sheet developed in Kodak HC-110 dilution “B” produced a thin negative... so I processed the second sheet for 33% longer than the original development time. Although I still had a thinnish negative it was just about right for the dark, heavy effect I visualised.
In 1981 my enlarger was a 5x4 inch Durst condenser-type and extracting the maximum detail from this negative was difficult and generally unrewarding. Roll on almost twenty years to the late 1990s and I was using the latest Durst 1200 Laborator Multigraph closed-loop enlarger which, with a swish of the exposure probe across the projected image on the baseboard easel, recommended a paper grade of 2.8 (slightly harder than a normal grade) and an exposure time of only 2.54 seconds with my 150mm f/5.6 El-Nikkor stopped down to f/11... as I said, the negative was indeed thin.
It is not really possible to feel the strength of the image on a PC screen at 72 or 90 dpi... but viewed properly the print demonstrates the advantages of the large-format regime of 5x4 inch sheet film coupled with a programmed “closed-loop” enlarger.
If you are a large-format photographer, or loco buff, and are interested in owing a limited print of this image I still have five archivally made selenium-toned silver-gelatin prints from the 1999 Edition of ten (my best edition, and unlikely to be reprinted by me as I have retired my darkroom and from printing work). It’s a signed 12 x 9.5 inch image on 15 x 11.5 inch Agfa Multicontrast Classic paper (Note: This is NOT a C-type machine print) priced at only 240 euros including postage to anywhere in the world.
Silver negative and chemicals